Sports and Sleep

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You should consider going back to doing sports. And seriously! This should be one of the top 5 resolutions at the beginning of the year for every single one of us. If you play sports in order to sleep well at night and facilitate falling asleep, then you should know that being good in sports also requires having a good sleep.

Move more to sleep better

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The balance between sports and sleep is essential because one favors the other. Just like poor choice of drinks can kill your sleep,  poor quality sleep makes exercising less effective (it increases the feelings of tiredness, decreases the recovery, increases the negative effects induced by the exercise like the aches, the inflammation, the heat tolerance, etc.). And conversely: doing sports or physical activity generally promotes better quality sleep, due to energy expenditure, hormonal stimulation and better regulation of sleep / wake rhythm (also known as the circadian rhythm).

It is a healthy fatigue: falling asleep occurs faster, with fewer nocturnal micro-awakenings. Sports accentuate the depth of sleep. Exercising acts mainly on the time spent in deep slow sleep, which is much more effective for recovery than paradoxical sleep. But this effect only exists if you use more than 60% of your maximum VO2, that is to say when it becomes difficult to speak without being breathless while practicing your physical activity. This deep sleep is promoted by the practice of sports, which is itself dependent on the quality of the recovery, and so the deep slow sleep. Indeed a virtuous circle.

Should we sleep more when we are sporty?

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No, playing sports does not require sleeping more. It is also not necessary to sleep more to be more successful at sports. There is no relationship between sleep duration and performance, but rather between deep (slow) sleep duration and motor learning (a new technical gesture or tactical scheme). A long nap (90 minutes, in other words the duration of a deep sleep cycle) can encourage this type of learning.

One of the first criteria for the quality of our sleep is the feeling of tiredness on waking and during the day. If you feel fit, it is very likely that your sleep is good. Some research has shown that sports (just like a hot bath) can increase the body temperature which then – by rebound effect – decreases thus facilitating falling asleep. On the contrary, others conclude that activity must be stopped at least 4 hours before bedtime. There is no consensus today on this point. The only thing in common is that if the sport is practiced regularly at the end of the day and integrated into its daily activity it does not seem to disturb sleep.

Exercising too much may disrupt your sleep

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If you have back pains, exercising too much may not be recommended. This is where adjustable beds like the DynastyMattress DM9000s with lumbar support can be really helpful. A disturbed quality of sleep is one of the first signs of overwork. Still, it must be particularly intensive. A British study has just shown it (5) to highly trained cyclists. The deterioration of the quality of sleep (less effective sleep, frequent awakenings) occurs in just nine days, but also a degradation of mood and performance, with more stress. Sleep, in a training program, is essential for both athletes and everyone who embarks on sports challenges or returns to sports too ambitious.

Sleep disorders and sports: any benefit!

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Regarding the sleep disorders, any type of a physical activity is beneficial regarding the sleep apnea syndrome. By activating the tone of the pharyngeal muscles, it decreases the severity of the symptoms. Same thing when it comes to the “Restless Legs” syndrome, where it seems to raise the threshold of pain and thus reduce the awakenings due to pain.

As for insomnia, the importance and role of sports lies in the notion of ritual. The sporting activity allows a “let go”, a zone of decompression between the activity of the day and the night. When it comes to other sleep disorders, like the so-called sleep-wake insomnia (nocturnal awakening and difficulty going back to sleep), the fact that physical activity increases deep slow sleep limits the risk of micro-awakenings.

Does the type of sport practiced have an effect on falling asleep?

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The effect on sleep differs according to the type of physical activity. It seems that ball games, dynamic muscle building, exercises that require attention, competitive spirit and tactics may more or less delay sleep. The neuro-stimulations they generate increase the level of vigilance.

On the contrary, aerobic physical activities (running, cycling, elliptical trainer, treadmill, etc.), even long-lasting (> 45 minutes) at an intensity that can be high (even the famous” fractional ” 80% of the VO2 max) or swimming in “self-hypnosis” mode (coordination and rhythm, in a non-competitive and pleasant mode), performed in a low light environment (outdoors), promote sleep.

5 precautions to preserve your sleep when you are sporty

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  1. Allow 2 to 3 hours between intense physical activity and bedtime. If it is too close to bedtime, it may for some people delay falling asleep. This time varies according to each one of us but one observes a “training” with the late sporting activity: the more one is accustomed to train at late hours, the less the consequences on the sleep are important. What reassure those who have no other way than to play sports after a day of work: an exercise at the end of the day does not disturb sleep, at most it increases the duration of falling asleep .
  2. To help lower your body temperature, you can take a cool shower after exercising. Few studies also advise the hot bath whose benefits would be due to the “rebound effect” on body temperature.
  3. Common sense advice: minimize light sources that cause micro-alarms and noise in the bedroom, clean bedding, limit room temperature (18 degrees ideally) to reduce “latency”, between bedtime and falling asleep.
  4. Take a nap, whenever possible. The ideal is a 90-minute nap following intense sporting effort. A nap of 15-20 minutes is already restorative. The importance of the nap is well demonstrated, especially when the training load increases.
  5. Everything is in the regularity, weekends included! Staggering one’s sleep and waking hours at the end of the week actually leads to a desynchronization of the sleep / wake rhythm that the person takes several days to get back.

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